Suddenly, there is talk about ‘Change of Guard’ in Maharashtra politics’ top post. Congress wants to replace Maharashtra Chief Minister looking ahead of Assembly elections. Prithviraj Chavan proved as the most non active and lethargic CM of this state. I make it clear that his party has not asked to change Chavan. He is not aware of any decision by the Congress high command to replace him. Mr. Chavan would be replaced with Sushil Kumar Shinde.
The embarrassing defeat suffered by the party in Lok Sabha polls, where it could get only 44 seats in the 543-member Lower House, has prompted the exercise. While Assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana are scheduled at the end of this year, the party is grappling with dissidence in Assam. However, their partners NCP have not demanded that the chief minister be replaced. Though, they don’t foresee any problems when Congress and NCP leaders discuss seat-sharing for the Assembly polls. The alliance government, into its third term, will face elections in October. Congress is looking for a viable candidate to replace its CM Prithviraj Chavan ahead of the state assembly elections. Congress leaders are reportedly worried about finding a suitable candidate who will also be acceptable to its coalition partner, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Congress-NCP partnership has governed Maharashtra since 1999. In the national election last month, it was decimated by the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. Mr. Pawar’s party has accused Mr. Chavan of not clearing files or taking decisions to speed up development projects – steps crucial in the run-up to the assembly elections — soon enough. Sources say, the NCP is keen on Chavan being replaced by Sushil Kumar Shinde, former union Home Minister. Shinde was two times Chief Minister of Maharashtra and better candidate than other former CMs. He is well versed with state politics and can definitely bring some possibility of revival in the party.
The state government is reportedly planning to introduce reservations for the sizable Maratha community in the state soon. The elevation of Shinde, the state’s most prominent Dalit leader, to the Chief Minister’s post will help the NCP and the Congress garner support from both communities in the assembly elections, that’s what leaders of the two parties are hoping. In a meeting held in Delhi, the NCP chief had reportedly discussed the possible replacement of Chavan, with Congress’ AK Antony and Ahmed Patel, the powerful political secretary to party President Sonia Gandhi. Both the Congress and the NCP are reportedly seeking a change in top leadership to avoid a repeat performance of the Lok Sabha polls. Other names under discussion for chief ministership are the state’s Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat and Vikhe Patil, Maharashtra’s Agricultural Minister. A decision on change of guard in Assam, Maharashtra and Haryana is expected soon with Congress leadership holding parleys with Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Haryana as the party prepares for a massive organisational rejig.
Two Maharashtra leaders Shivajirao Deshmukh and Shivajirao Moghe met Ms. Gandhi at her 10 Janpath residence. Mr. Moghe later also met Mr. Antony. Deshmukh, who is the Chairman of Maharashtra Legislative Council, is a four-time MLA and has been MLC twice. Moghe is currently the minister of Social Justice in Maharashtra Cabinet. The talk about a change of guard in Maharashtra gained currency after Antony and Patel met NCP chief Sharad Pawar at his residence, where the issue was discussed threadbare. Party sources have maintained that in case a final decision to replace Chavan is taken, party veterans Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad could come to Maharashtra as observers.
Antony was also the AICC in-charge of Maharashtra some time back. Congress leadership has also been under pressure to replace Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi for a long time as rebellion has mounted in the state unit. Congress had managed to win only three of the 14 seats in Assam which was much below the party’s expectations. Since there are no early elections in Assam, the leadership views that if a change has to take place, it should be done now so that there is enough time for the new leadership in the state to prepare and perform in the Assembly elections. However, the central leadership of the Congress is keen that any change of guard in the state should be done in an amicable manner. Gogoi had been in touch with the central leadership in the last few days. The party is likely to send some senior leaders as observers in the state before a final decision is taken. Senior minister from Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma was also likely to meet top Congress leadership. They said Assam could be the first state where a change of guard can take place followed by Maharashtra. Unlike previous occasions, the Congress appears to be in a mood for some action this time around. Therefore, the fates of the three Congress Chief Ministers are at stake: Prithviraj Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam and Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Chief Minister of Haryana. Apart from poll performance, the immediate worry for the Congress is quelling the rebellion in its ranks in these states. The Congress is looking forward to regain lost ground across three states on the issue of a leadership change. Owing to the upcoming elections in the state, Maharashtra and Haryana barely have three to four months before assembly elections. Will changing the Chief Ministers make any impact – that remains to be seen.